It was a tough day when we arrived at Elk Creek National Campground at Blue Mesa Reservoir. We hadn’t been to a campground in quite a while and had apparently lost all our communication skills. It took us three attempts before finding a spot that worked for us. At lease we provided some entertainment for the campers there. One lady told me, “I know it says follow you on your license plate, but if we would’ve followed you we’d be out of gas by now.” I forced myself to laugh with her. We finally settled in and promptly left to a brewery we had passed in Gunnison. A meal and a drink was just what we needed after a stressful travel day driving the rig over Monarch Pass.
We had gone from a beautiful, serene, and relatively empty campsite in the woods filled with trees and wildflowers to parking on pavement with a bunch of close neighbors, no amenities, no trees or wildflowers, and not free. Yes, the water was within walking distance, but the shoreline was not inviting. And it was hot (speaking for myself only – Tom was perfectly content in the 84 degree weather). I wasn’t exactly a happy camper. And not eager to return to our hot tin box. So after dinner, we drove up the road to Almont to check out some other camping options we’d heard about. Turns out they wouldn’t have worked for us, but since we were half way there, I continued to drive up to Crested Butte – which everyone said we should go to see the super bloom of wildflowers.
The town was so crowded we couldn’t even find a place to park downtown to stroll around. I’d hate to think what it would be like on a weekend during the height of superbloom! I kept on driving up a pass road and, since it was late in the day, found a place to park at a trailhead.
We hiked a minute and it was gorgeous, but it was mosquito time of day and we weren’t prepared. So we drove home and by the time we got there the coach had cooled down and all was well.
After picking up some brochures while in town, I discovered there was a pontoon boat tour of the nearby Black Canyon: a national park we had never even heard of. We purchased tickets the next day at the visitors center (did I mention we had no internet in the campground as well?) but they were sold out until Sunday. So we reluctantly decided to extend our two day stay into four. After picking up maps while at the visitors center, we decided to go to the Black Canyon National Park to drive around the rim.
It was a beautiful drive to get there. Sometimes an impromptu stop turns up the most curious things: We saw a sign for Cimarron Campground and turned off to check it out, only then seeing signs for the Morrow Point Dam road. So we checked it out and what a surprise. There used to be a railway through the Cimarron Canyon and they had a restored portion of the train that used to travel it. They actually build a bridge portion to keep the display on – safely away from touching and climbing on the train.
We hiked down to where the Cimarron River meets the Gunnison River that has the dam, but we didn’t have time to hike the Mesa Creek Trail that was across the bridge.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was a surprise and a delight. We drove the south rim and stopped to hike out to almost all of the lookout points.
The massive wall of rock called Painted Wall is the highest cliff in Colorado at 2300 feet – almost twice at high as the Empire State Building. Who knew that there was such a big hole in the ground in Colorado?
It was even more exciting to know that in a couple of days we’d be on a boat in the Gunnison River at the bottom of the canyon. We were going to check out the canyon from all angles!
On the way out of the south rim loop, we took a detour to drive down the winding E. Portal Road to Crystal Dam.
The rock scenery was awesome and although we couldn’t get close enough to see the dam, the water pool at the bottom was worth the curvy drive.
Since we were close at this point, we drove into Montrose to check out camping for our next stop. Turns out we probably won’t be heading to the Elk’s lodge there next, but we had a nice dinner in town and a beautiful drive back along the river.
The next day we drove into Lake City back on the other side of the water. But that was such a memorable and picture worthy day I’ve created a separate blog (click here) to cover it.
On Sunday we got an early start and drove to the trailhead that took us on a hike down to the spot where we could board the boat for the river cruise.
I’m glad we took the trip to see the canyon from the bottom up, although it wasn’t quite as dramatic. The water was calm and the cliffs massive, and the most interesting part was that they used to have a railway that ran along the river. Now the tracks are removed and the trail reclaimed by nature – except for the part we walked to get to the boat.
The hike back up gave us a good workout in the midday sun.
After the boat ride, we drove back across the Blue Mesa Reservoir to drive the North Rim of the Black Canyon.
We stopped to hike out to many of the vistas, and this side was just as spectacular as the South Rim Drive.
Now it’s time to move on. It’s cliche’ but true: parting is such sweet sorrow. Even at this campground I didn’t think I’d enjoy, I’m sad to leave. Partly because it signifies our leaving the high country we’ve been in for so long and heading down into warmer weather. Mostly because the Rocky Mountains have so many amazing treasures we were never aware of.
Now we are heading to down in elevation to more heat. Hookups and laundromats are in store.
Peace & Love, Joy